What is an ankle fracture?
A fracture is a partial or complete break in a bone. An ankle fracture can range from a simple break in one bone, which may cause discomfort but not stop you from walking, to more serious fractures, which damage multiple bones that hold your ankle joint in place and may require surgery or immobilization for some time.
There are three bones that make up the ankle joint:
- Tibia – shinbone
- Fibula – smaller bone of the lower leg
- Talus – a small bone that sits between the heel bone (calcaneus) and the tibia and fibula
Any one of the three bones could break as the result of a fall, twisting, rolling or rotating your ankle, a car accident or some other trauma to the ankle. The more bones that are broken, the more unstable the ankle becomes and the longer the recovery time.
What are the signs and symptoms of a fractured ankle?
Common symptoms of an ankle fracture include:
- Immediate and severe pain, which can extend from the foot to the knee
- Tender to touch
- Decreased ability to walk or put any weight on the injured foot
- Deformity or protruding bones
Because a broken ankle can frequently be confused with an ankle sprain, most severe injuries to the ankle should be examined by a musculoskeletal specialist.
What are the treatment options?
First, to prevent further complications, make sure to stay off the injured ankle until you receive medical evaluation from a physician. Other ankle fracture treatments include:
- Elevate the ankle and apply ice to the injured area to decrease swelling and pain.
- Rest and make sure to stay off the affected ankle.
- Depending on the type of the fracture, a splint/cast/boot may be used to stabilize and realign the ankle joint.
- Some patients may require surgery if the fracture is severe enough.
What is the best way to heal from a fractured ankle?
Healing of an ankle fracture depends on the severity of the injury. To optimize bone healing we advise patients eat a good diet, get enough calcium and vitamin D, and follow treatment instructions from their physician.
Will an ankle fracture heal by itself?
Some ankle fractures will heal without surgical intervention but most require some period of immobilization in boot or brace if treated without surgical intervention.
What should someone with a fractured ankle do to keep relatively fit during the period of immobility?
Patients often worry about their fitness when they are immobilized or unable to put weight on their extremity after an ankle fracture. I recommend my patient at Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center begin upper body exercises as soon as they can resume activity. We also have patients frequently use rolling knee walkers, which allow them to be as mobile as possible while they are healing.
If you’ve suffered an ankle fracture, seek medical attention from an orthopaedic physician specializing in fractures. The physician will conduct a physical exam, perform appropriate imaging and recommend a treatment plan (non-surgical or surgical) to get your back to your pre-injury functional level safely and as soon as possible. If the injury is severe, please call 911 or visit the nearest hospital emergency room.
About Dr. Bariteau
Jason Bariteau, MD, grew up in a small town just outside of Albany, New York. After completing his undergraduate degree in Biology at College of Saint Rose, he then pursued his medical degree at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. Following completion of his medical training he developed his surgical skills during his orthopedic surgery residency at Brown University. He then subsequently completed two advanced orthopedics fellowships; the first at Brown University in orthopedic trauma and the second at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas Texas under the tutelage internationally known Foot and Ankle Surgeon James W Brodsky MD. He currently resides in Atlanta, GA with his wife and three children.
Takeaways from Dr. Olufade’s Ankle Sprain Chat